National Cancer Institute
Posted Date: May 23, 2005
Doctors cannot always explain why one person gets cancer and another does not. However, scientists have studied general patterns of cancer in the population to learn what things around us and what things we do in our lives may increase our chance of developing cancer.
Anything that increases a person's chance of developing a disease is called a risk factor; anything that decreases a person's chance of developing a disease is called a protective factor. Some of the risk factors for cancer can be avoided, but many cannot. For example, although you can choose to quit smoking, you cannot choose which genes you have inherited from your parents. Both smoking and inheriting specific genes could be considered risk factors for certain kinds of cancer, but only smoking can be avoided. Prevention means avoiding the risk factors and increasing the protective factors that can be controlled so that the chance of developing cancer decreases.
Although many risk factors can be avoided, it is important to keep in mind that avoiding risk factors does not guarantee that you will not get cancer. Also, most people with a particular risk factor for cancer do not actually get the disease. Some people are more sensitive than others are to factors that can cause cancer. Talk to your doctor about methods of preventing cancer that might be effective for you.
The purposes of this summary on endometrial cancer prevention are to:
- Give information on endometrial cancer and how often it occurs.
- Describe endometrial cancer prevention methods.
- Give current facts about which women or groups of women would most likely be helped by following endometrial cancer prevention methods.
You can talk to your doctor or health care professional about cancer prevention methods and whether these methods would be likely to help you.
In the United States, endometrial cancer is the most common cancer of the female reproductive system. This disease primarily affects women after menopause. The number of new cases of endometrial cancer has been decreasing, as has the number of deaths from this disease.
Endometrial cancer is found more often in white women than in black women. When found in black women, endometrial cancer is usually more advanced and less likely to be cured.
Endometrial cancer can sometimes be associated with known risk factors for the disease. Many risk factors can be changed though not all can be avoided.
Hormone Replacement Therapy: Women with a uterus who take estrogen replacement therapy alone for 5 years or more to treat symptoms of menopause have a 10 times greater risk of endometrial cancer than those not taking estrogen therapy. Adding progestin therapy to estrogen therapy (combined hormone therapy) decreases the risk of developing endometrial cancer or precancerous lesions, such as atypical hyperplasia.
Selective Estrogen Receptor Modifiers: Tamoxifen and raloxifene are selective estrogen receptor modulators or SERMs that are being studied to prevent breast cancer. Using tamoxifen increases a woman's risk of developing endometrial cancer. The risk is greater in postmenopausal women. Using raloxifene has not been shown to increase the risk of developing endometrial cancer.
Oral Contraceptive Use: The use of combination oral contraceptives by premenopausal women is associated with a decreased risk of developing endometrial cancer, ranging from a 50% decrease after 4 years of use, to a 72% decrease after 12 or more years of use.
Age at Onset of Menstruation and Menopause: Beginning menstruation at an early age and beginning menopause at a late age increase the risk of developing endometrial cancer.
Diet and Lifestyle: The risk of developing endometrial cancer is increased in women who are obese. Women who eat diets low in saturated fats, high in fruits and vegetables, and rich in soy products may have a reduced risk of endometrial cancer. Women who exercise regularly tend to have a reduced risk of endometrial cancer.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome: The risk of developing endometrial cancer is higher in women who have polycystic ovarian syndrome (a disorder of the hormones made by the ovaries).
Number of Children and Breastfeeding: Women who have never been pregnant have a greater risk of developing endometrial cancer than women who have had children. Women who breastfeed may have a reduced risk of developing endometrial cancer.
For more information, U.S. residents may call the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Deaf and hard-of-hearing callers with TTY equipment may call 1-800-332-8615. The call is free and a trained Cancer Information Specialist is available to answer your questions.
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Changes were made to this summary to match those made to the health professional version. Links to the NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms were added.
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The PDQ® database contains summaries of the latest published information on cancer prevention, detection, genetics, treatment, supportive care, and complementary and alternative medicine. Most summaries are available in two versions. The health professional versions provide detailed information written in technical language. The patient versions are written in easy-to-understand, nontechnical language. Both versions provide current and accurate cancer information.
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Listings of clinical trials are included in PDQ® and are available online at NCI's Web site. Descriptions of the trials are available in health professional and patient versions. Many cancer doctors who take part in clinical trials are also listed in PDQ®. For more information, call the Cancer Information Service 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237); TTY at 1-800-332-8615.
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